Due to a flurry of additions, the 2022 AFC presents a crowded competition for playoff and Super Bowl LVII access. Some of the top-tier teams addressed key weaknesses, and several middle-class squads took big swings in respective aims to improve their chances this season.
The fallout paints a picture in which barely any AFCers can be truly counted out for playoff contention. Future Hall of Famers, potential Canton inductees, and Pro Bowlers moving from the NFC — along with various intra-AFC changes — have made for one of the most captivating offseasons in modern NFL annals. While the offseason is not yet complete, most of the acquisition dominoes ahead of training camp have fallen. Which team did the best work?
With Russell Wilson joining the Broncos, the AFC West’s Wilson-Patrick Mahomes–Derek Carr–Justin Herbert quartet appears of the great quarterback armadas any division has fielded in the five-plus-decade divisional era. The Broncos gave up two first-round selections in a five-pick deal but were able to hang onto their young receivers. Denver, which moved to a younger coaching staff headed by first-time HC Nathaniel Hackett and two rookie coordinators, also added defenders Randy Gregory and D.J. Jones. Going from the Teddy Bridgewater–Drew Lock combo to Wilson represents one of the top gains any team made this offseason, but Denver’s divisional competition will not make improvement easy.
Entering the final year in which Herbert must be tied to his rookie contract, the Chargers addressed several needs. They added defensive help in free agency, via J.C. Jackson and Sebastian Joseph-Day, and traded second- and sixth-round picks for Khalil Mack. The team also extended Mike Williams at $20MM per year — days before the wide receiver market dramatically shifted — and drafted right guard Zion Johnson in Round 1.
The Raiders were partially responsible for the wideout market’s explosion, trading first- and second-round picks for Davante Adams and extending him at $28MM per year. That came shortly after the team’s Chandler Jones addition. Las Vegas’ Josh McDaniels–Dave Ziegler regime has greenlit extensions for Reggie McKenzie– and Jon Gruden-era holdovers — from Carr to Maxx Crosby to Hunter Renfrow. Will a Darren Waller deal follow?
Of last season’s conference kingpins, the Chiefs and Titans endured the biggest losses. Hill and Tyrann Mathieu‘s exits will test the six-time reigning AFC West champs, while last year’s No. 1 seed balked at a monster A.J. Brown extension by trading him to the Eagles for a package headlined by a 2022 first-rounder. Both teams did address some needs early in the draft, but the Bengals and Bills look to have definitively improved their rosters.
Cincinnati augmented its bottom-tier offensive line by signing La’el Collins, Alex Cappa and Ted Karras. The defending AFC champions retained almost their entire defense, though Jessie Bates is not especially happy on the franchise tag. Buffalo reloaded as well, adding Von Miller to a defensive line that has lacked a top-end pass rusher for a while. The team swapped out ex-UDFA Levi Wallace for first-round cornerback Kaiir Elam, and James Cook is the Bills’ highest running back draftee since C.J. Spiller 12 years ago. How significant will the Brian Daboll-for-Ken Dorsey OC swap be?
Although Cincy’s AFC North competition made improvements, some caveats come with them. The Ravens filled their center and right tackle spots, with first-rounder Tyler Linderbaum and veteran Morgan Moses, and are now flush with safeties following the arrivals of Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton. But Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson situation has reached a strange stage, with the top three Ravens power brokers indicating the former MVP has not shown extension interest. Cleveland landed Amari Cooper for Day 3 draft capital and, on paper, rivaled Denver’s QB upgrade. Historic draft compensation and a shocking $230MM guarantee was required for the Browns to pull it off. But their Deshaun Watson trade has generated considerable drama — to the point the ex-Texans Pro Bowler cannot be considered a lock to play in 2022.
Oddsmakers do not expect the Jaguars’ moves to translate to 2022 contention, but the team did hire a former Super Bowl-winning coach in Doug Pederson and spend wildly for lineup upgrades — from Christian Kirk to Brandon Scherff to Foye Oluokun — and used two first-round picks (Travon Walker, Devin Lloyd) to further upgrade its defense. Going from Urban Meyer to Pederson should offer stability to a franchise that has lacked it, never more so than in 2021.
The Jets chased big-name receivers for weeks but came away with Garrett Wilson in a highly praised three-first-rounder draft. New York’s last-ranked defense now has new pieces in first-rounders Sauce Gardner and Jermaine Johnson, along with DBs Jermaine Whitehead and D.J. Reed. Miami made a stunning coaching change by firing Brian Flores, which produced a tidal wave of controversy, but the now-Mike McDaniel-led team also paid up for splashy additions in Hill and Terron Armstead while retaining steady edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah.
Are there other teams that warrant mention here? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on the new-look AFC in the comments section.
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